Media watchdog RSF says worried by attacks on press

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PARIS, Oct 16 (Reuters) Press freedoms have deteriorated in Eritrea, Peru and Mexico but the situation has improved in the world's most developed countries, a media rights group said in an annual report today.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Russia was the only member of the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations that failed to recover lost ground in their annual ranking of press freedoms in 169 countries.

''Overall we have no reason to be optimistic,'' said Jean-Francois Julliard, head of research for RSF. ''The worst countries are not getting better at all.

''In the 20 countries at the bottom of the ranking, which are traditionally pretty much the same every year, nothing has changed at all, be it Eritrea, North Korea, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cuba or countries like that. That worries us.'' North Korea propped up the list in 2006, but this year, east Africa's Eritrea came out worst.

''Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom,'' RSF said in a statement accompanying the listing. ''We know that four journalists have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.'' Mexico continued to be the most dangerous country for the press in the Americas, with eight journalists killed there in the 12 months from September 2006, while almost 100 journalists were physically attacked in Peru.

On a positive note, no reporters were killed in Colombia during the 12 months in question -- ''a first'' according to RSF.

The RSF list aims to name and shame countries into improving their record, Julliard said, but he acknowledged it was easier to put pressure on smaller countries whose rights record was not well known by the general public, than a state like China.

GUANTANAMO BAY RSF said Russia remained a blackspot, noting that the killers of Anna Politkovskaya -- a journalist critical of the Kremlin -- had not been brought to justice and that Russian television and radio lacked diversity.

Russia was in 144th place on the list.

However, Julliard said other major economies had improved for the first time in three years: ''They have taken into account the appeals of various people to be exemplary.'' RSF recorded fewer press freedom violations in the United States, though the continued detention in the U S Guantanamo Bay prison of a cameraman for the Al Jazeera Arabic television station kept it out of the lead group and in 48th place.

French journalists saw no repeat of the violence they suffered during 2005 suburban riots but concerns remained over censorship and confidentiality of journalists' sources, leaving France in 31st place.

Italy had halted its slide down the rankings and was in 35th place, but mafia threats remained a worry. Japan, in 37th place, saw fewer journalists were attacked by nationalists.

European countries claimed the top 14 places in the survey, with Iceland and Norway sharing the lead.

Reuters GL RN1856

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